SEOUL — The phased reduction of 12,500 U.S. forces from South Korea over the next three years is simply a smokescreen for a U.S. invasion, North Korea claimed this weekend in another of its long-standing rhetorical blasts at U.S. policy.

The North took umbrage with the deal inked recently between the United States and South Korea, delaying the troop cut from an original 2005 proposal to the year 2008.

“The announcement clearly proves the U.S. farce to cut down its forces in South Korea was nothing but a trick to cover up its arms buildup for invasion,” read a commentary carried by the North’s official Korea Central News Agency.

“The armed forces cut-down is part of arms buildup moves to provoke the second Korean war like all the arms reduction farces staged by the U.S. so far.”

U.S. officials do not respond to the frequent claims by the North. But in announcing the troop reduction agreement earlier this month, they emphasized the reduced number of soldiers would not reduce the deterrent role played by U.S. forces in South Korea.

Over the same time period as the withdrawal, the U.S. plans on investing some $11 billion in high-tech upgrades to weapons systems and defense capabilities, officials have said.

The 12,500-troop drawdown already has begun. The 3,600 2nd Infantry Division troops sent to Iraq will head to Fort Carson, Colo., instead of returning to South Korea, and 1,400 more will depart by year’s end, according to the reduction agreement.

In the years to follow, similarly sized U.S. elements are to depart until the withdrawal is complete in 2008.

The KCNA report concluded by urging “South Korean authorities to stop their treacherous act of following the U.S. arms buildup moves and war policy to launch a war on the Korean peninsula.”

In another story, KCNA said the temporary deployment of U.S. Stealth bombers and F-15E Strike Eagles to South Korea has put the North Korean military at “full combat readiness.”

“The army and people of the DPRK are keeping themselves in full combat readiness to foil any preemptive nuclear attack of the U.S.,” the KCNA report said, using the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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